While Islam bought some benefits to Muslim women the ’divine decree’ did not help her future position. The consequence is that women are treated today, throughout Islam, as their female ancestors were treated in the time of Muhammad. What in those days may have been progress is nowadays retrogression.
As an able diplomatist, Muhammad tried to win over women to his cause and to make an ally of them at a time when he was struggling with his own people. This desire is seen in his sermons and the Arab woman of the time did indeed owe a great deal to him we can therefore, from time to time, find exhortations to be kind to women.
> “A divorce is only permissible twice: after that, the parties should either hold together on equitable terms, or separate with kindness” (Al-Baqarrah 2:29)
> “and speak to them words of kindness and justice.” (An-Nisa 4:5)
> “O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness ……………… on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. (An-Nisa 4:19)
Equality is recognised in that devout men and women will be rewarded alike:
> For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise, for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward (Al-Ahzab 33:35)
Equality is recognised in mutual affection between husband and wife (wives) and is stressed in the Quran (this could well be in the context of a polygamous relationship).
> “And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are signs for those who reflect.” (Al-Rum 30:21)
> Permitted to you, on the night of the fasts, is the approach to your wives. They are your garments and ye are their garments.”(Al-Baqarrah 2:187)
The story is related that one day Muhammad invited some Abyssinians to come and play at his house, and asked his wife to be present at their games; but, in order that she should not be seen by the audience, he placed her between the two doors of the house and stood in front of her, remaining in this position until she had finished watching the players. Then when his wife had returned to her own apartments, the Prophet, addressing the company, said: “The best of believers is he who shows the most gentleness and delicacy towards women, and I am better than you as regards my own” (Sheikh Muhammad es-Senoussi).
Equality is recognised in that both men and women are to lower their gaze:
> “Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them ………….. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, etc …….. ” (An-Nur 24:30-31)
Before his death Muhammad is said to have proclaimed “Treat women well; they are your helpers and they can do nothing by themselves; you have taken them as property that God has entrusted to you and you have taken possession of them with divine words.”
Despite these encouragements for the cause of women, their fixed position was not as hopeful as it might at first appear for greater concessions were given in favour of the Arab man. We recognise that not every Muslim will follows these teachings but they do express standard Islamic teaching these well-known references are given in no particular order.
Inequality is found in that men are given the divine right to admonish their wives even to the point of physical force.
> “As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them, refuse to share their beds, and beat them; but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance)” (An Nisa 4:34).
Inequality is found in the intimacy of the married couple, after the wife’s period, she should comply with all the desires of her husband:
> “They ask thee concerning women’s courses. Say: They are a hurt and a pollution: So keep away from women in their courses, and do not approach them until they are clean. But when they have purified themselves, ye may approach them in any manner, time, or place ordained for you by Allah. For Allah loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean Your wives are as a tilth unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will; but do some good act for your souls beforehand; and fear Allah. And know that ye are to meet Him (in the hereafter), and give (these) good tidings to those who believe. “(Al-Baqarrah 2:222,223)
When a husband invites his wife to sleep with him and she refuses, the angels curse her until morning” (Bukhari volume 7 Number 121/122)
“The prophet of Allah said: When a man calls his wife to satisfy his desire, let her come to him though she is occupied at the oven.” (Mishkat-al Masabih English translation, Book 1, section ’Duties of husband and wife’ Hadith number 61).
Inequality is found in that men have the advantage
> “And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree (of advantage) over them. “(Al-Baqarrah 2:228)
> “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more than the other, and because they support them from their means. (An-Nisa 4:34).
> ” and get two witnesses, out of your own men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women, such as ye choose, for witnesses, so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her.” (Al-Baqarrah 2:282)
The women are deficient in their religion: ‘Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri: Once Allah’s Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) on ‘Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, “O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women).” They asked, “Why is it so, O Allah’s Apostle ?” He replied, “You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you.” The women asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?” He said, “Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?” They replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn’t it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?” The women replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her religion.” (Bukhari Volume 1 Book 6 number 301)
Inequality is found when women only inherit half of what a man inherits:
>”Allah (thus) directs you as regards your children’s (inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females: if only daughters, two or more, their share is two-thirds of the inheritance; if only one, her share is a half. For parents, a sixth share of the inheritance to each, if the deceased left children; if no children, and the parents are the (only) heirs, the mother has a third; if the deceased Left brothers (or sisters) the mother has a sixth. (The distribution in all cases (‘s) after the payment of legacies and debts. Ye know not whether your parents or your children are nearest to you in benefit. These are settled portions ordained by Allah; and Allah is All-knowing, All-wise.”(An-Nisa 4:11)
Inequality is found in that a Muslim man can be marry up to four women at the same time, but a Muslim woman can be only married to one man.
Marry women of your choice, two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice. (An-Nisa 4:3).
This polygamous condition continues in the after life for according to Muslim number 6793 “The (members) of the first group to get into Paradise would …….. and every person would have two wives and the marrow of their shanks would glimmer beneath the flesh and there would be none without a wife in Paradise.
Inequality is found in that women should stay in their houses.
Many Muslim women cannot travel without permission from their husbands. ‘One day a woman asked the prophet what were the duties of a wife towards her husband: to her he replied:” A wife should not leave her home without her husband’s leave; it is this consideration that justifies the use of the veil.”’ Some may argue for the absolute commitment to this hadith by applying Al-Azhab 33:33
> “And stay quietly in your houses, and make not a dazzling display, like that of the former times of ignorance.”
The Hanafite School, who form the largest Muslim group, say “the mother has the rights to the custody of the boy until he is seven years old. Others say until he is nine, but the first opinion is the one that is legally accepted. For the girl there are two opinions. The first until she menstruates, the second until she reaches the age of puberty which was set to be nine years old. (The views of ‘Abd ar-Rahman al-Gaziri, al-Fiqh ‘ala al-Mazahib al-Arba’a, Dar alKutub al-’Elmeyah, 1990 vol 4.page 522).
Muhammad did not mention the topic of the education of women. The majority of the commentators hold that she ought to be forbidden to learn writing, poetry, and composition, because these studies contain a pernicious element that might spoil her mind and character.
Muhammad was a man of his time; it was impossible for him to have seen the changes that have occurred to benefit women. His words may have helped women to some degree in their past situation but they do not help their future position. The orthodox interpreters of the Quran and of the Hadith have held strictly to the letter of their sacred texts and fixed for all time the position of the Muslim woman. As they took as their basis the customs of the period, they rendered any ulterior improvement impossible. Humanity has made progress since the second century of the Hegira but the Muslim community has not been able to follow.
Abridged from ‘Islam and the Psychology of the Muslim’ by Andre Servier and ’Women in Islam’ by P.Newton and M. Rafiq ul-Haqq